What is expected of me?

MCF - NEWSLETTER 2017-02-03 WHAT IS EXPECTED OF ME

When Jesus told His disciples that He would be taken prisoner, suffer at the hand of religious leaders, and be killed, Peter exclaimed: “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” (Matt 16:22). Scripture says Peter rebuked Jesus; the original Greek translates that Peter admonished or even forbid Jesus. However “Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns” (Matt 16:23). Jesus was pointing out a stumbling block that infects followers; many focus on things that concern humanity or themselves instead of that which concerns God.

Followers lose their way when their expectation of discipleship differs from Jesus’; when they anticipate earthly rewards in place of that associated with living a holy life. A life not based on conservative legalism, pious expectations or restrictive customs missing but one that allow us to experience the goodness of life God has for us. The reward of one following Christ is the blessing of happiness; the inward joy, peace of mind, contentment with life, love of all people, and hope of eternity. [1] However, there is a cost to following Jesus.

The disciples’ friend, leader, and messiah had been crucified. When they gathered behind locked doors, uncertain as to what was going to happen next, did they recall Jesus saying whomever wants to follow Him must deny themselves and take up their cross? Did they wonder if they were to go into the streets to be martyred? Were there concerns at the time about their future expectations and desires? When Jesus visited them shortly after His resurrection He pointed them back to God. He placed them on ministry to spread His truths to the world and lined them up with God’s concerns.  He knew that with faith and the Holy Spirit, they would find the answers to His expectations for followers.

Followers must continue to ask what it takes to be a follower. However they must not avoid the questions regarding denying one’s self and the cross they must take up? The first step to following Jesus is accepting Him as saviour. Then we must seek out His teachings with the aim of following and sharing them. As followers engage in scripture reading and study, prayer, and Christian fellowship, answers to what is expected of them will become clear. As a follower’s life is transformed, holy living will be modelled. Answers to denying one’s self will be revealed as will a symbolic or literal cross and God’s blessings will help them bear those expectations.

Jesus told His followers that they will not walk alone and will be given a role model, guide, and encourager while as they seek to do God’s will. He also suggested that the journey will not be easy but it can be rewarding both in heaven and on earth.  Discipleship is not a series of objectives to be achieved but a life that displays constant worship and love for God. Ask to be a follower. Ask the Holy Spirit to be your escort. Pray for a mentor or guide to share your walk with, so to keep you pointed in the right direction. Acknowledge and be thankful for the rewards of discipleship.


[1] Thoughts developed following from a lecture provided by Dr Dinkins formerly of Asbury Seminary

Becoming a disciple

MCF - NEWSLETTER - 2017-01-27 Becoming a disciple

Discipleship is the process of devoting oneself to a teacher to learn from and become more like them. For the Christian, this refers to the process of learning the teachings of Jesus and following after his example in obedience through the power of the Holy Spirit. Discipleship fundamentally involves all of one’s being, not just the mind or intellect. All of the biblical terms used to convey the concept of discipleship involve more than just academic engagement. Moses made clear that the teaching of the law was meant to result in obedience to what it said rather than just intellectual acceptance (Deuteronomy 4:5). The obedience is reflected when, as Moses directed, we “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:4-6). Jesus’ expectation for discipleship goes beyond an individual standing before others and telling them they believe and want to follow Jesus. He expects commitment to knowing and doing.

In Chapter 8 of the Gospel of Matthew we can read about an encounter Jesus has with people who tell Him they want to follow Him. Jesus offers two thoughts regarding expectations that sadly cause many want-to-be disciples to freeze in their tracks. In verses 18-22, He shares that it will be tough and requires immediate commitment. “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head”, reveals that our basic comforts will be challenged. His response “follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead” seems harsh to the individual who asks, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father” but it does suggest the commitment is now. Consider what this man asked, did his father just die? Was there a sense of urgency to get home to bury him and if so, why was he stopping on the way to listen to Jesus talk. Was he asking to be allowed to fulfil his obligation to an elderly parent until his father died and then he would be free to follow? Scripture shares that family is important but it should not be our excuse for inaction. We can love God as He intended and we can be disciples while life happens around us.

Discipleship begins when we believe that Jesus is that path to salvation and that His truths are the guiding light. Discipleship can be wrongly perceived as a set of steps that one completes in order to achieve discipleship status. That approach allows us to think we are able to delay them until we have completed whatever else we think needs to be done first. Regardless of how wonderful and meaningful this activity may seem they become excuses that prevents the commitment God desires. Becoming a disciple requires a mindset change. Discipleship is not something that occupies the time in-between our work, our pleasure or even our Sunday worship. It must become a way of life where we are mindful of Jesus’ teaching and God’s expectations causing us to want to apply them as we work, play, and worship.

Lastly, discipleship not only involves the process of becoming a disciple but of making other disciples through teaching and evangelism. As followers of Jesus we should be able to identify three phases of our journey, which we can share with others. We know what our life was like before we chose Jesus; we know the circumstances that led us to choose Him; and we should know what our life is like since we became followers. Wanting and actually sharing this discipleship journey with others should be a response to being a follower.

There is intentionality required to identify Jesus’ teaching in order to understand and apply them. Scripture study is necessary, so is communication with God (prayer), and so is fellowship with others. There are numerous books, studies, tools, sermons etcetera that are available and accessible. They help us understand discipleship as they often consolidate Jesus’ teaching into a package that allows us to comprehend, grow and apply His teachings. We can assist you with recommendations as to what tools you might consider however only you can decide to become a disciple. Becoming a disciple requires we learn and follow the teachings of Jesus. The Holy Spirit wants to empower us to do so. Choose the path you want to be on now. Choose to be a 24/7 intentional disciple of Jesus.

Wanting to be a disciple of Jesus

JESUS IN THE TEMPLE 2017-01-19

When in Jerusalem it was Jesus’ habit to sit in the temple courts and share thoughts about God and His kingdom. Onlookers initially included people from the community but eventually religious authorities, such as Pharisees and teachers of the law, began to observe and even engage Him. Jesus taught that worship of God is enhanced when we recognize that His love for us is central to everything. He shared that when we are transformed because of a relationship with Him, God’s love will be evident in our everyday behaviour. Jesus also taught that when we regard God’s laws as statements of love as opposed to restrictive guidelines, then true worship becomes possible.

Jesus’ audiences often included those responsible to interpret and teach God’s laws and those who often felt oppressed or restricted by them. Listeners were sometimes confused with what he spoke about but were also intrigued by His teachings.  The Gospel of John shares that during one of these sessions Jesus is approached by religious authorities who want Him to endorse the stoning of a woman they have dragged before Him. She has been caught sinning and they want the full punishment of the law to rain down on her. Because of what Jesus does and says (John 8:7-11) the accusers slip away; most likely realizing they are also guilty of some sin and could be punished. Those remaining might have wondered whether the laws, that were central to their lives, were still applicable or whether there was a greater meaning behind them.  Jesus never taught that the laws were to be abandoned but that God desires more than ritualistic acts. Throughout His ministry He taught truths about practical applications of God’s guidance. It is these teachings He speaks about when He tell believer’s how His disciples would respond; they would follow His teachings.

Jesus offered truth about who He was. At one point He made the statement that if people just followed His teaching they will know the truth and be set free. He wanted to set them free from the mindset that had developed because of their religious approach to honouring God, an approach that was inhibiting their worship of Him. Their worship appeared to stem from a desire to be obedient rather than to love and honour Him.

Jesus calls those who believe to be His disciples. Unfortunately many hesitate because they think it means following rules that might restrict their behaviour thereby isolating them from their friends and family. Some get into a worship rut and end up going through the motions. They attend weekly service because they should. They read their bible so they can say they did, and they pray ritualistic without pausing to think why they are praying. Some might call themselves followers even though they have skipped the need to seek Jesus truths, study them, apply them to their lives and allow them to transform them such that they want to share those truths with others. Some want the jacket with the word DISCIPLE emblazed across the shoulders without seeking the relationship or understanding what makes disciples; activities that require a yearning for God and time.

Over the next few weeks we are going to share some thoughts as to what makes one a disciple of Jesus, why we should all want to be a disciple, and what are the expectations that come with being a disciple. Our desire is to help free you from the thoughts and actions that hold you captive to routine and prevent you from experiencing what God has intended for us while we are on this earth and when we go to eternity. Please take some time and reflect in your commitment to being a disciple of Christ and ask God to help you change. Seek to worship God in truth, Jesus’ truths.

Blessings

Anton Topilnyckyj

MCF Prayer Coordinator

Look at ME – 2017-01-06

MCF - NEWSLETTER IMAGE STARR 2017-01-05
 
 
In the book of Acts, chapter 3:1-6, the Apostles Peter and John encounter a lame beggar on there way to temple.  The lame asked the Apostles for money to which Peter replied and scriptures say, they both looked at the man and said: “look at us”.  When all three were looking at each other, Peter said: “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you”.
 
Have you ever watched people approach a street beggar? Many will move to the opposite side of the sidewalk or, if they are unable to do so, will either lower their head and look at the ground or fiddle with their phone or something else to suggest they are too busy to notice someone seeking help. Have you ever wondered what the panhandler’s thoughts are when they witness this avoidance tactic? Most homeless people and street beggars are not naive to their situation. Many acknowledge that they contributed to their current situation and none will ever say their dream was to live on the street and beg for assistance. Regardless how they got there, their situation is both demoralizing and humiliating and watching people look away makes them feel like pariahs in their own communities. 
 
In the name of Jesus, Peter gave the lame man the ability to walk. He could feel like a member of society; like a human being. He could go home, face his neighbours and participate in his own upkeep. Peter and John did something that reminds us that the needy are created in the image of God and are deserving of our love and respect. Peter and John made the effort to look and talk with the lame man and see his need. They were able to bring Jesus to another by simply acknowledging his existence. Those who are homeless or use food banks or suffer from invisible illnesses desire this acknowledgement not judgment or contempt. 
 
God created us to live in relationship with one another but many don’t because they can’t get past outer appearances. On street corners there are visible reminders of people in need but many are blinded to them because they choose to look the other way or not to listen when they talk. Jesus taught that we must interact with those whom society overlooks or looks down upon. Followers should decide whether they should emulate Jesus’ behaviour or look the other way. Can we offer more than silver and gold to those around us? Can we do something about those needing food and shelter? Can we help those with family troubles, invisible illnesses such as PTSD, or a lack of hope? Can we look at and face someone who had been marginalized by society and see his or her need? 
 
People need Jesus regardless of their status in society and followers of Jesus can offer Christ to them. It is easy to look at the misery in the world and ask: “why does God allow this to happen.” However, do you wonder if God asks the question: “why are we letting things happen around us when we are able to help?” We have the ability to help those around us but do we have the desire to face someone in need and say: “look at me” and listen them into existence?

Praying through God’s name

prayer-requests

When you speak about God what name or names do you call Him by?  Do you use different names when you pray, when you offer praise, or even when you sing to Him?  Does your need dictate the name you use?  Does your spiritual or emotional state affect how you connect with Him? 

When Moses first encountered God at the burning bush and was told he was going to free the Israelites, he was a little concerned.  He knew people would question his authority to suggest such an action and so he asked God simply “who shall I tell them sent me?”  God replied, tell the “I AM” sent you and then He told Moses to offer the hint that He was the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob (Exodus 3:13-15).  The Israelites, who depended solely on oral tradition of their faith, would have known whom Moses was referring to and what He offered.        

Most of us use a bible translation that is written in our own vernacular and as such only recognize and utilize a limited number of names that have been given to God.  This is somewhat unfortunate because He has names that offer insight into His character and nature and can affect our relationship with Him.  Did you know that scripture reveals more than 85 different names for God?  These names are ones given to Him based on the way He responded to the needs of the people. Our needs do not differ much from those of the early Israelites or new church and His character has definitely not changed.  It is an enlightening experience to communicate with God and align our intention to His character.  When we communicate with all of God, we can begin to recognize where He fits into our lives and the lives of those we pray for.

We invite you to join us daily to pray using a different variation of God’s name each day.  Prayers will be posted daily on FACEBOOK, however for those who are not on FACEBOOK, you can go to the MCF web page and follow along as prayer will be posted a week at a time.  The idea would be to read the description, reflect on it and then offer the prayer.  Hopefully, you will keep God’s name and meaning in your mind all day and as you go about your life, God may reveal Himself to you using that trait.  

If you have a request for yourself or for someone, please share with us and we will ensure our prayer team get on board and pray.  Requests can be sent  from our website and are kept confidential.  

PRAYER PRACTICES

Prayer is a relationship between God and us. Theopan the Recluse, a Russian spiritual formation advocate, wrote “to pray is to descend with the mind into the heart, and there stand before the face of the Lord”. Prayer practices provide different opportunities for us to apply our heart to our relationship.

Our relationship with God is not meant to be a repetitive routine.  If we engage God the same way all the time our interaction has the potential of becoming an act of obedience and not one motivated by love.  The following practices have been taken from the suggested prayer practices of men and women who have sought a deeper relationship with God.   A primary source has been Calhoun’s Spiritual Disciplines Handbook. Many practices may be new to readers.   We should be willing to try something different, and to give the practice a chance; we should do it several times.  If necessary modify the practice to suite your needs.

Each practice is presented in the same format:

  • Thoughts about the practice;
  • The desire that motivates us to perform the practice;
  • A definition of the practice;
  • Supportive scriptural reference(s) (unless identified NASB translation is used);
  • Ways to experience the practice; and
  • The God-given fruit from the practice.

Along with each prayer style are suggested spiritual exercises that help you practice the prayer.  You may do one or all of the exercises.

The ancient Jews believed that prayer began with an intentional awareness of God’s presence.  Adopt an appropriate posture of prayer (examples are found in article “Tip – Postures for prayers) and be prepared to be transformed.  The desire of prayer is to connect with God and so keep that in mind, always, when you pray.

All prayer practices are included below.  Ready to download and print.

  1. Breath prayer
  2. Centering prayer
  3. Contemplative prayer
  4. Conversational prayer
  5. Fixed hour prayer
  6. Inner healing prayer
  7. Intercessory prayer
  8. Prayer walking
  9. Labyrinth prayer
  10. Liturgical prayer
  11. Prayer partners
  12. Praying with scripture

 

Prepare to share

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.
 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. ” John 14: 1: 4

 
I recently watched the 2014 movie The Gospel of John and admit that the last supper conversation seemed to affect me a little deeper than it has in the past. As I listened to the narrator, who read the NIV gospel version verbatim, I closed my eyes and imagined Jesus was speaking directly to me. He acknowledged the special bond believers have with Him and reminded us that there is a place set aside for those who believe. Jesus shared that He was leavening and at first that may seem sad. However, because I know the whole story He shared, I was listening for the joyous messages that are part of the Christmas story; the ones that remind us that He was born so our future home can be with Him. 
 
During Christmas we often hear messages about Joseph and Mary’s commonness, the lowly setting in which Jesus was born, and how Angels shouted out the night He was born. We don’t often link it to the fall in the Garden and our subsequent sinful nature which brought about the need for Christmas as well as Easter. We don’t often mention that, because of our inclination to be naughty, God had to put a plan in place so that the many rooms in His house would be filled with all those who believe in the birth, life, teaching, suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. It is the plan that sees Jesus coming back to earth one day and fulfilling the promise of taking believers with Him into His Father house for all of eternity. This is part of the Christmas story that many do not know but should hear. 
 
During this time of the year we laugh, sing, eat and are merry. Many are open to reconciling and connecting with those we avoided all year and so opportunities to live our faith in front of another are increased because of the spirit of Christmas. Please remember the reason behind the season and pray that you can be witnesses to someone so you can share the promise behind the birth.  Fire and brimstone talks will get you talked about, but inviting someone to break bread with you and enjoy this time of year together will guarantee a second encounter and maybe a room mate in eternity. Pray that God prepares someone to hear the whole story and that may be part of sharing some or all of it. Ask God to prepare you for an encounter. Enjoy this season. Remember the reason. Preach the gospel and, as Francis of Assisi says, if necessary use words. 

We all need a true friend.

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This month we will hear scripture that foretold the birth of our Saviour, read the words Gabriel shared with Mary about her pregnancy and be reminded of different reaction to that news.  Sermons will share that during this time in Israel’s history, being pregnant while engaged was shocking but claiming to be impregnated by the Holy Spirit, while being a virgin, was even more difficult to try to explain. Someone will tell us that Mary was in an unenviable position and another will say Joseph’s was not much better because both were subject to cultural and religious expectations regarding pre-marital activity; any breech of expected behaviour could have had dire repercussions. 

 
Reflecting on the Mary’s response we know her acceptance of pregnancy was not an indication of indifference to her situation. Being engaged and pregnant (and not by the future husband) was a potential death sentence for her. We know Mary’s conversation with God’s angel allowed her to recognize her condition as a blessings as she shared these words “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me- holy is his name.” Luke 1:46-49. As blessed as Mary felt, her pregnancy could have set off wagging tongues, led to discrimination and mistreatment, and her life could have become very difficult. So what did Mary do when faced with this very real difficult situation? Mostly likely she would have spoken to God seeking comfort and assurance but we know she confided in another person; her cousin Elizabeth. Mary went to someone with whom she knew she could talk with about serious matters. Her visit was immediately corroborated as the right decision because Elizabeth’s child (the future John the Baptist) jumped in her womb as a sign of acceptance. (Luke 1:41). In addition to seeking God, Mary sought out a loving and comforting individual and confided in her. 
 
Scripture suggests Mary did not immediately tell Joseph she was pregnant and only did so after her visit. After spending a few months with Elizabeth, Mary returned home to talk with her future husband about their situation.  As Mary shared the news, Joseph would know he was not the father and could have suspected adultery and called for Mary to be stoned or publically humiliated.  He himself could have been subject to some disgrace, as people would have assumed he was the father. Betrothed people were not allowed to be intimate until after their wedding, which occurred one year after engagement. Mary did tell Joseph that her condition was the result of the Holy Spirit’s interaction, and although he knew her to be a good woman with a fine reputation, that was a difficult story to accept. In his mind he probably felt she was carrying another man’s child and so he left her presence troubled. There is no indication that he spoke with a friend or discussed his situation with anyone else. He went to bed that evening mulling over the idea of quietly divorcing her; a necessary action to end an engagement. However, that night he was visited by God’s angel who told him not to be afraid and to follow through with the marriage. He was also told that Mary was indeed impregnated by the Holy Spirit and that their son Jesus would save His people from their sin.  
 
We know Joseph and Mary married, Jesus was born, and salvation was brought to humanity. We can see this as a joyous story and may feel inclined to talk about the next encounter with Jesus without any thought to the fact that two people, not unlike us, were in a very difficult, potentially dangerous situation that was fuelled by cultural and religious traditions that threatened to destroy their lives. If stoning was avoided, the potential humiliation and mocking would have followed both of them and their child for the rest of their lives. We can however conclude that their prior relationship, trust and adoration for God, for whom nothing was impossible, helped them overcome their situation. They willing accepted the truth and wisdom shared by God’s angel, which turned out to be their saving grace. 
 
Upon reflection we can’t help but wonder if Mary was able to adjust to her situation more quickly because she had someone who loved and supported her; someone she could talk with. The time she spent with Elizabeth certainly prepared her to speak with Joseph. I take liberty to suggest that Elizabeth’s support affected Mary’s mannerism and demeanour during the talk about pregnancy and may have affected Joseph’s positive response. Scripture doesn’t say Joseph screamed or hit Mary but that he still thought of her as good and respectful.  Mary’s interaction with Elizabeth could have prepared for the talk whereas Joseph seemingly goes through this trial without another human to comfort or guide him. Although he made the right choice in the end, it could not have been easy. 
 
Christmas reminds us, that the gift of eternity with God was realized when Jesus took on human form. It reminds us that we are designed to be in harmony with God and one another and, like Joseph and Mary we must seek God daily in the good and bad times.  The Christmas story also reminds us that life is better when you can share the joys and struggles with another. Do you have a friend with whom you can confide? Is there someone who cares about your spiritual and physical health; who wants to share your joys and your struggles? Will they stand with you and be bold enough to point you in the right direction to get you over life’s obstacles? This friend is not a biological brother or sister or a spouse, but a child of the most high who will speak tough love and truth into your life.  Pray for a spiritual companion of the same gender as yourself, so you can mentor each other in the ways of Christ. Pray for a friend to be there in the time of adversity.  

“Our goal – disciple making disciples”

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Our mission at the Military Christian Fellowship of Canada includes disciple building; helping people live daily as individuals whose words and actions glorify God. It is a mission that all followers of Christ are called to participate in and should be the primary focus of our existence. A disciple’s daily life exemplifies their belief in Jesus, their desire to want to know and follow His truths, and leads to an urge to share God’s truth with others so they also want to become disciples. At the MCF we want to help all followers live as Paul shares; so that “whether we eat or drink or whatever we do, do it all for the glory of God” 1 Corinthians 10:31. We want to guide, coach, and support members of the military community to draw close to God.
 
Why do we want to do this? Frankly, we want to be in God’s will. We know God created us for His glory. We want to help others realize that our existence is a product of God’s love.  People are drawn to God and have been given a hint of His existence as Romans 1:20 shares “we can see God’s hidden qualities, eternal power and divine nature” and we want to help those seekers understand God’s expectation and desires for His creation. We want our military brothers and sisters who do not know or understand God’s promises for them, to be introduced to Jesus’ truths. We want their families to join them in becoming heirs to God’s kingdom and experience a life of hope. We want our military believers to step up and become disciples who live daily with contagious enthusiasm and joy.
 
Followers often speak with God about their purpose or His plan for their life but somehow can’t seem to accept the idea that God would be honoured if each day they showed signs of being a disciple, signs such as participating in activities that draw them closer to Him. Disciples love God with everything they are such that, by God’s grace, they become more Christ like through a life of faith and obedience. It is not a bystander’s status and requires more than weekly worship. It is a life that glorifies God such that observers become aware of God. A disciple worships God, is confident in Jesus’ truths, and walks in the power of the Holy Spirit; they experience the fruits such as love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control “Galatians 5:22-23”.  A disciple of Christ demonstrates love for God and neighbour, seeks knowledge in scripture, lives in a lifestyle that honours Christ, prays, and shares with others that a life in Christ is a lifestyle worth seeking.
 
Our desire at the MCF is not outside God’s will but is a response to be obedient to Him.  In the near future we will introduce guides to help disciples on their journey as well as practices to encourage them to be disciples makers. In the mean time ask yourself the following: “Can you identify some characteristics of a Christian disciple in your life? Are there some characteristics of Christian disciples that you struggle with?”  Based on your response, examine your prayer life, your scripture reading and study practices, and your willingness to seek to love God and neighbour more. Ask God to help you be the disciple that He created you to be. Prepare yourself to be part of the mission of the MCF, the mission of all Christ followers, the mission to take the gospel into your world and make disciples.
 
“Now all has been heard;
    here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
    for this is the duty of all mankind.” 
Ecclesiastes 12:13